Wednesday 5 September 2012

Five From the Archive (no.8)

It's getting to the point where I can't remember which books have featured in Five From The Archive and which haven't, so I'm doing my best to think up new aleatory connections between the books in my review archive... and the one I came up with for today is definitely unusual!

Five... Books About Hands

1.) Halfway to Venus (2008) by Sarah Anderson

In short: Anderson runs a travel bookshop, and had an arm amputated after a severe childhood illness.  Halfway to Venus is a fascinating personal, social, and cultural history of amputation and limbs.

From my review: "It is to Anderson's credit that Halfway to Venus brings out so many questions and reflections and reactions. A very honest book of autobiography, it is also a fascinating compedium, and with an engaging writing style which is all too often omitted from well-researched non-fiction."

2.) The World I Live In (1908) by Helen Keller

In short: the counterpart to Anderson's book, Keller explores the significance of hands when they provide the main sense-based interaction with the world.

From my review: "When I say that Keller's worth as an author is not merely as a novelty, I mean that she should not be patronised, nor her writing viewed as some sort of scientific experiment.  She is too good and perceptive a writer for that."

3.) Maestro (1989) by Peter Goldsworthy

In short: Eduard Keller is a Viennese refugee in Australia, teaching 15 year-old Paul the piano in an unorthodox manner - which begins with studying the importance of each individual finger.

From my review: "Their relationship isn't romantic or fatherly or even particularly close.  Keller resists any sort of emotional connection, and Paul is far too full of youthful insensitivity to do anything but blunder into conversations in which he is too immature to participate, even if Keller were willing.  But what Goldsworthy builds between Keller and the Crabbes is still somehow beautiful.  The connection between people who never open up to one another; the legacies left behind a relationship which could not even be called a friendship.  Goldsworthy has done this beautifully."

4.) Observatory Mansions (2001) by Edward Carey

In short: Francis Orme works as a living statue, but concentrates most of his efforts on an underground exhibition of sentimental objects he has stolen from residents of Observatory Mansions.  This book comes under 'hands' because Orme is very protective of his, always wearing white gloves, which he removes and archives as soon as they get slightly dirty.

From my review: "I probably overuse the word 'quirky', but no other description will do for Carey's work."

5.) Immortality (1988) by Milan Kundera

In short: Kundera's postmodern narrative starts with him seeing a woman's distinctive gesture with her arm.  He names her Agnes and invents a story around her, around that gesture. And then weaves it into a literary, historical intertextuality that darts all over the place, including Rubens, Goethe, Hemingway, Beethoven...

From my review: "I don't know why postmodern stuff is so often annoying, but with Kundera, it isn't annoying at all. He completely disrupts the novel form, and throws the reading experience into a whole new category, but it isn't self-indulgent. His writing is so good, he is so very, very perceptive, that it works."

Over to you!  A rather tricky category, but let me know if you have any suggestions...


  1. Well, not as brain-stretching as yours, but I immediately thought of Gifted Hands, The Ben Carson Story.

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  3. I can only think of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, which I haven't maybe there is no "hand" featured in the story.

  4. I haven't read "Left Hand..." for many years but I remember it being very good and also very unusual as the main character is neither male nor female - which is very hard to get your head round as we are so used to defining a person by gender.

    1. That would be a first for me - although wasn't there one everyone seemed to be reading last year? Just a name for the title... no, it's gone.

  5. As a girl I used to read a comic called 'Tracy', it was pure class and one of the series was entitled 'Heather's Horrible Hands'. Heather had suffered an accident, I can't remember what, after which her hands had to be amputated and replaced by the hands of a murderer. (!!!!!) The hands turned out to have a life of their own, and would spontaneously attack people (with Heather attached of course). All HIGHLY convincing of course.

    Perhaps not what you had in mind...

    1. Hahahaha! Yes, this sounds pure class; an experiment in realism. I did read a similar conceit in Gillian Cross's Twin and Supertwin (I may have missed the Shauvian wordplay at the time) where one twin could determine what replaced the other's hands... oh, what a shame I missed that from the list.

  6. I loved The Left Hand of Darkness - so good it deserves to be included here despite not referring to actual hands. Otherwise I mostly associate fiction about hands with horror: one of G.P. Taylor's books - Shadowmancer, I think - has a hand of glory in it, and I remember starting (but not finishing) a book in which a pianist loses a hand in a car accident and has it replaced by one which gets out of....hand? And there's The Monkey's Paw by M.R. James, and I think there's something in Sheridan Le Fanu.

    1. That's what I love about these unusual themes - they cover so many genres! Yes, once horror is in the picture, 'hands' suddenly gets unnerving as a theme...


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